Monday, November 16, 2009

UK5: Books and walks

In the morning, Ned is studying between bouts of playing computer games. He got up today in the early hours, just after Tom and I went to sleep. He’s staying off his feet so he can walk around London and Cambridge in the coming week.

Tom appears at 11, about an hour after I do. The night's rest has done us good. I throw in a load of laundry and do a food inventory. Tom and I are taking a bus into town to head for Wycliffe (Tom) and OCMS (me). First I stop by Heather House, where my good electrical adapter disappeared Sunday during the move. I may have dropped it on the street lugging “stuff” to the new location, but it has not been found. The landlady loans me one, but it is not small or elegant, nor does it fit the other adapters in the set. Vivian has a lot of excellent ideas about how we could best get to London to stow our gear Wednesday …and when I can pull myself away, I watch the bus driving away from the bus stop. I think Tom is on it: I was going to meet him at the stop. Gooodbyyyyyee to that.

After getting off at Cornmarket Street, I take a turn where the first bus driver says I’m supposed to catch a bus. Except that when I decide to walk instead, the added detour adds about a half mile to my walk. Finally back on St Giles (Cornmarket with a new name), I take the left fork to Woodstock Road. This place is so interesting and historic that a single house, parked in Canada or the USA, would bring us to a standstill. Here, every lovely home is one among many. After a while, the beauty is mind numbing. I keep reminding myself to breathe deeply, to look closely, and to pause to admire. If I can fill my heart with this, I will have the best travel souvenirs ever.

It’s a brisk 15 minute walk to the beautiful church that houses the Oxford Center for Missions Studies (OCMS). The stained glass windows, Scripture calligraphies on the walls verses, and a high vaulted roof braced with steel beams, remind us that the library was once the original chapel. On three sides of the center where tables await students, study carrels and shelves of books tuck under the side arches. At the front, a bank of desktop computers sit in the nave under fabulous stained glass windows and a triptych altar piece illustrating the entombing of Christ after his crucifixion. It’s a bizarre and wonderful interaction between history and current scholarship.

Initially, like with any first exploration, nothing makes sense and there are too few and too many books and topics. Gradually things sort themselves into categories and sections. By 4pm my head is full and my eyes are blurring. I put my stack of books under a “please do not disturb” note, say goodbye to the librarian, and head home.

I take a new route, through a park, over a river to a dam, backtrack a quarter mile when the path turns sharply away from town, take a winding ring road back to a main street, and turn right as planned with a map. Except I recognize my bus stop, going in the opposite direction. I stop – I’ve been walking 50 minutes – and hop the bus home.

What will we eat for supper? Tasty AND affordable means another walk to Tesco, but this time I don’t take side roads. It’s a half hour there and back – but the return journey feels longer with four grocery bags full. Two hot, cooked chickens, breakfast sausages, Quorn (veg sausage), a litre each of milk, juice, and sparkling water, 2 packages of crumpets, a bag of apples, a jar of strawberry jam, salad, brownies, and scones. I am tired, but all our meals are covered until we leave Oxford, are covered @ L20 (about $38. That’s the price of a cheap supper out for us three.)

Ned slouches on the sofa, feet up, playing computer games. He’s stayed in to relax and work on papers. Tom is still in town, “probably lost,” Ned assures me. He gets up without explanation in the middle of the meal to chat with his girlfriend via Skype. The abrupt departure while our plates are full makes the word “barbarian” pop into my mind. I can’t imagine leaving the table to talk on the computer in the same room, disrupting his meal and mine. (But his actions remind me that most of us at home--including me--answer our cell phones at meals. We are both innocently and instinctively rude, lacking good manners and culture.)

I am loading the dishwasher with my dishes when Ned returns to the table. I ask him to put the dishwasher on after he loads his own dishes from lunch and dinner. Tom’s dirty dishes from last night are beside the stove. I’m not in much of a mood to play kitchen mother.

Tom comes in at 7, having eaten in town, visited banks to see if he can open an account for his January stay, and taken a tour of the Bodleian Library. He's content. He didn't make it to Wycliffe College. His hopes of a quick overnight trip to Paris or seeing Edinburgh (6 hours north) are over for now.

My head is full of arrangements for our trip to London Wednesday, missions books, and planning for Cambridge at weeks end. If possible, I’d like to go to start the day at a 7.30 Quaker meeting tomorrow (breakfast following), and be at OCMS when they open at 9am. We’ll see if my body cooperates with good intentions.

What a satisfying day, with rest and books, walks and scenery. Acceptable food, a weary body, and a warm bed. Doesn't get better than this. Thanks be to God.

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